Agressive Head Hen


In the Brooder
6 Years
Mar 18, 2013
Long Island New York
I have 5 24 week old hens. One of them started laying at 14 weeks. Now that all of them are finally at it, my head hen (Sookie) will not let anyone into the nesting boxes (I have 5 so there's enough for everyone). She has aggressively pecked at my poor leghorn's (Lucy) comb to the point of making it bleed. I can see when I get home that poor Lucy, who was the last to start laying, is so dirty nervous and sometimes has to lay her egg under the coop. They have plenty of room to run around and I let them free range for most of the afternoon and evening. They all were getting along beautifully until about two weeks ago. Now my coop is always dirty because Sookie kicks all of the hay out of the boxes and if I don't get in there fast enough, she will peck at and eat the eggs. Any suggestions?
Separate Sookie for a start, I think is the best bet. If you don't yet have an extra cage, well, this is one of the reasons everyone needs one. ;) They are a great investment and you will always need one at random times, often when you least expected it.

Getting a new cage and putting her in there every night for a week to bond her to it as her sleeping place can possibly solve the social issues, but won't solve the egg destroying issues. Because of the way she's hurting the other hens, I'd lock her away for a week or so instead of just letting her free range with them and changing her roosting place at night. I'm going to suggest a few things which might be a better bet, but given that she's displaying multiple negative behaviors, treatment is not so simple.

She will soon train the other hens to eat the eggs, in all likelihood. It's necessary to train her out of egg eating and scratching the nest up. She definitely lacks maternal instinct to even go digging in the nest like that, and that's likely how she learned how to gain an egg meal. But this doesn't mean it's guaranteed she'll never be a mother if you choose to let her mother, just that it's unlikely.

Separating Sookie for a week or so will rearrange her on the social order. All the other hens will take a step up and Sookie will fall to the very bottom. This may allow other bullies to emerge, as sometimes subordinates become nasty when enabled to become dominants. They were often subordinates in the first place because they were not fit for the dominant role. But sometimes the dominant bird is only so because they are excessively nasty.

When Sookie is returned she will have to reestablish herself, which does likely mean fronting up to each hen in turn and possible fights. I would first take nail-clippers, the sort used for people, and trim off the see-through tip of her upper beak. I'd file it until it's smooth after trimming off the excess. This won't hurt, unless you cut into the opaque part. It will let her eat, drink, and preen normally, but smashing her beak hard into an egg to break it will hurt and she won't do that. It will also prevent her from being quite as damaging to other hens, but it will grow back rather fast.

Otherwise, if you choose not to trim her beak, then I would not give her a nest box in the new cage unless it's one that has the special flooring to roll the egg away from her safely. The pattern of destroying nests and receiving rewards of raw egg for it must be broken. I would suggest getting sand for her nest and if possible, no walls, or deep walls, so she has more trouble smashing it.

When you return her, it might help to shackle her feet, if you think she may take the fights too far and be vicious rather than fair, which sounds fairly likely. I shackle their feet by taking a soft, round, thick shoelace, and tying it very securely around each ankle, leaving enough room to take a normal step, but not enough to run. It's important to make sure it won't slip over either ankle or knee, and that the knots won't slip and tighten. Like this, she can dustbathe, walk normally, jump up and down from the perch, scratch, etc, but if another chicken tries to escape her, she can't chase it. I would provide no distraction when she is reintroduced, since that means it's more likely the other hens will all be focusing on her. The shackles can be cut off with scissors any time you think she's learned her lesson. Easy to do on the perch at night.

Inherent risks in separating any chicken, even for a few hours, can include: subordinates stepping up into violent dictators (if that was already in their natures, not that you'd ever see it if they never got the chance to step up); total rejection by the flock; permanent outsider or low status, and extra violent status battles. None of this might happen but how a flock reacts to having the social order forcibly changed is unpredictable.

Best wishes.
I had an egg eater and bought wooden eggs to put into the nest boxes. The egg eating stopped, probably because a wooden egg got pecked and it hurt!
Thank you both for the advice! I have been periodically putting Sookie in a large dog crate. She goes in willingly and will lay her egg in there and not eat it. She seems to leave the other birds alone after she has done so. I have also left the door to this crate open, and the other birds have gone in there to lay as well. I usually close the door when they're in there so they will have privacy. This works, however, I am not able to do so on a regular basis. And soon after, Sookie goes back to being a bad girl again. Also, my other usually very sweet girls are turning out to be aggressive to Lucy as well. They are NOT aggressive to me, or anyone else. They let me pick them up freely and I pet all of them frequently. I did have a rooster and we re-homed him several weeks ago. I noticed the change in behavior not long after he was gone. I wish we kept him. Unfortunately, I have to go away for the weekend as my daughter is in a soccer tournament. Will be leaving the birds in the care of my very kind neighbor. I'm very nervous about this. As soon as I come back, I've got to separate Sookie. I will also try the wooden egg!!
Yes, I agree with Sakmeht; it was an oversight for me not to suggest that. I have always found fake eggs quite helpful with everything from nest abandonment due to me collecting all eggs, to vermin attacks, to redirecting clutch-jealous hens, to deterring egg-eaters, and a bunch of other uses. I made mine of plaster of paris and painted them with acrylic and sealed them but wood ought to work just as well. I found it was the ability of the fake egg to conduct heat like a real egg that determined whether or not the chickens accepted it. But some less instinctive hens will sit on fakes that don't bear any resemblance to a real egg.

One issue is that the fake egg will only deter her from digging in the nest if you are always on hand to remove the freshly laid ones as soon as possible after they are laid.

Of course that won't solve your aggression issues but I guess we'll see how that goes, and best wishes with that.
Update: I decided that the main issue was that they were not getting enough privacy in their boxes. I closed off the top and added privacy "curtains" to the front yesterday. When I came home this afternoon, there were 4 beautiful unbroken eggs!! There was no hay kicked out of them and no bullying. I think once all the girls started to lay at once they just needed some more privacy. I hope that this really does correct it. Thanks all for the advice!

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